How to lead a more simple life….

A three part series has just come to an end on BBC2.  The series was presented by Peter Owen Jones, an Anglican vicar who tried to reduce his dependence on money and ‘stuff’.  During this time he tried self sufficiency, managing without money and making his way from his Sussex parish to North Devon depending on the benevolence of complete strangers for food and shelter.  His inspiration in this was St Francis of Assisi, his quest was to find out if living a more simple life would make him happier.

There have been some criticisms of this, many justified; is it easier to live without money if you have some, the presence of a camera crew may have made people more generous etc.  But, to me, the central messages of the series are pertinent to modern day life.

Firstly, the acquisition of money seems to be a way of reducing reliance on others, building up barriers so we can separate ourselves from other  people – we can just buy things or services from anonymous people and anonymous companies.  There is no need to bother building a relationship with people, having a relationship with money is easier.

Money is also self-defeating to some extent, or, rather the pursuit of money is.  Once we get past a certain point where we have enough to live comfortably; put food on the table, pay the bills, what do we want more money for?  In part it is (hopefully) for insurance for old age, but, more often it is to buy more.  Buy more cars, buy more things, buy a bigger house to put them in etc.  Then, we need more money, because there are other things we need more of.  When do we stop and ask whether we need these things, or even really want them.  There are very few people who do not have things in their house that they don’t use or wear, or that someone else bought for them, because they had to get them something, but ‘they already had everything they needed’.

Finally, by working to pay ever increasing bills, we are rushing round, not stopping to see what is there, all around us, and, more importantly, getting stuck in a rut, not finding out what we are really capable of.  Whether this is painting, gardening or even just listening, there are many of us who don’t take the time to find out what we can do.

So, did Peter Owen Jones successfully live without money, did a simple life make him happier?  I think the answer to both is yes.  In the end, the system beat him, he has to have a car due to the fact that he is vicar to three rural parishes, and car insurance is not something he can trade his time for.  But, admitting that in modern times it will be necessary to have some money, then I think he did quite well.  However, when he finally did get his wallet back I was surprised to see him struggling to not make spontaneous purchases of stuff!  Oh, and he did seem to have found a way to make his life more meaningful, and consequently happier – by spending time with parishioners, swapping his time for whatever they wanted to give – surely that is the way it should be if they value the service he offers?

So, what are my thoughts about Peter Owen Jones’ experiment?  I think it was an admirable experiment, that, whilst it would not work completely for everyone, certainly has something to offer to all.  It’s message certainly resonates with me.  We can all live with less, without the hankering for more.  Over the last few years I have bought less and less, Waitrose and books from Amazon being my main indulgence.  Not only does this give me more financial security, it means I throw less away, and, I have more time.  In that time I have discovered new hobbies – blogging for one, made new friends – at Tai Chi and a local camera club, and learned a lot more – through distance learning, internet resources and good, old fashioned reading.

I am at the point now where I don’t want more stuff, only more time.  As the saying goes, the best things in life are free (written whilst listening to bird song and watching the sun go down).  Maybe if we all tried to slow down and live a more simple life we could reduce society’s dependence on outside addictions including anti-depressants?

Are you missing out on something this weekend?

In the UK a bank holiday weekend is approaching and who knows, maybe the weather will be warm and sunny. So, a nation will get into its cars and head to the coast or the national parks, spend a few hours in traffic jams, looking for somwhere to park, looking for somewhere to eat etc etc. But, what are you missing closer to home? This weekend is the perfect opportunity to go out and look closely at what nature has to show you (for free and without needing to sit in a metal box on a long, boring stretch of concrete).
I have a few suggestions to make, these are for those in the Daventry area, but I am sure there are similar things to be found wherever you live in the UK.

Bluebells at Everdon Stubbs
Bluebells at Everdon Stubbs

Firstly, at this time of the year the bluebells are a must. In Badby and Everdon there are cream teas available this weekend for those going to see one of nature’s most beautiful spectacles. I went to visit the bluebells in Badby Woods for the first time last year. Apart from the spectacle of a sea of blue in all directions, the scent is astonishing as is the constant drone of the bees. I went to Everdon Stubbs this week which is stunning at the moment, but I was later told is also somewhere to hear a cuckoo, something I think of as the quintessential rural England.

If you don’t want to go that far, how about a walk around the country park. At the moment the hobbies have returned and are swooping about at the far end of the dam, just in front of the trees, chasing larger insects and smaller birds. The swallows, house martins and swifts are also there, screaming about the water (being chased by hobbies!) as are the common terns, preparing to nest on the tern rafts and patrolling along the shallower waters looking for their lunch.

Cuckoo Flower
Cuckoo Flower

The hedgerows are starting to get their second coat of white – the hawthorn is coming into blossom. Along the ground around the edges of the housing estate, industrial estates and country park are an array of wild flowers. Cowslips are still in bloom, along with the more delicate Cuckoo Flower (also known as Ladies Smock) and, if you look closely you may notice the small purple blooms of the Ground Ivy. As always, darting above the flowers are the butterflies; Orange Tips, Large Whites and Speckled Woods are all there, waiting for you.

So, instead of trying to get away from it all, why not stay home in the midst of it all and relax!

Winding Down

After a bit of a hectic week (if only by my standards) I decided that Friday would be a day for doing the things in life that make me happy. This inevitably means photography or birdwatching and definitely a good walk. So, once more, I combined the two into one trip and spent an hour at Ryton Organic Gardens looking for a good photo opportunity and some inspiration for my flower garden, followed by an hour at Brandon Marsh.

I took a few photos that I quite liked, but I am not sure that I obtained much inspiration. Many of the flowers were still looking good, but I am not sure how much will be there in a couple of months time. There was also a fair amount of clearing being done, preparing the vegetable beds for Winter. The apple trees look as though the harvest will be a good one, ready for their Apple Day on 5th October, but, unfortunately I don’t have room for an orchard.

Brandon Marsh always seems to be an all or nothing place, and this week was closer to nothing. I didn’t have my ‘scope with me and was reliant on a small pair of binoculars, which meant that I probably missed quite a bit of what was on offer. However, no matter what the state of the bird population there it is always a relaxing place to walk around. The trees are starting to change colour and the Viburnum Opulus (Guelder Rose) were full of berries.

There were lots of lapwings and gulls about, and a red kite had been seen earlier (maybe that was responsible for the expensive glassware on show in the Carlton hide?), but there was a bit of a dearth of birdsong in the woods. I shall have to have a wander to the Country Park to check on the state of things there (any excuse for a walk!).

Travel – the good, the bad and the ugly.

Last week I attended a conference in London for two (non-consecutive) days.  I decided that the easiest and most environmentally friendly way of getting there would be by train – no worries about getting lost (!! although I managed this anyway) or congestion charges.

Houses of Parliament
Houses of Parliament

First, the good.  I booked my tickets online and the process went smoothly.  I opted to travel from Long Buckby which is the closest station (I thought about Rugby, but that doubled the price) and managed to get a one day travel card incorporated into the ticket – bargain!

The journey – the first day was fine.  I discovered that the train from Long Buckby went all the way to London, but took about 30 minutes longer than the Virgin Pendolino service that was non-stop from Northampton.  I opted for the Virgin train as I had to be in Lambeth by 8:30.  The train was quite full, but there were some seats.  I got to London on time and negotiated the tube OK.  Coming back I had to catch the London Midland train which stopped at various places on the way.  This was busier (until Milton Keynes) and slower, and then I still had to get home from Northampton.  

The second day was a different story.  I only had to be there for 9am, but the Virgin train was cancelled, so I stayed on the train from Long Buckby.  The train before this one had been cancelled, so it was busier, and there was a break down further down the track, so it was late.  I got into London 30 minutes later and the tube was heaving.  I had to wait for three before I could squeeze on (thank you to the woman who stood in the entrance blocking the way with her suitcase – not!).  When I got to Lambeth the roads were also noticeably busier, but I reached the venue with a couple of minutes to spare.  The journey back involved a race across London to get an earlier, direct train to Long Buckby – again down to standing room only, but better than sitting in Northampton station at 7pm.

The thing that surprised me (not having commuted for years and certainly not to London) was the sheer volume of people that move around each day, each year.  

The tube works amazingly well considering there are about 2.7 million people using it each day (figure taken from Tube Life).  But my question is, why are we making that many journeys?  The figure of 2.7 million doesn’t include those who drive, walk, take the bus, these are just people using the underground in London.  When I look at the trains, these were all full, as were the platforms at the stations we passed through.  Then, when I listen to the travel news, the roads are all full.  When you add the fact that there are 200 million airline passengers each year, it seems as though we are all on the move.

So, my questions are as follows:

Where are we all going?

How many of these journeys are really necessary?

The trains to and from London are packed – why are there not more trains?  In particular, if there is a direct train from Virgin that gets to London by 8am, why is there not one from London to Northampton (OK, I would allow it to stop in Milton Keynes) between 5 and 6pm to take all of the morning commuters home?

Why does it cost twice as much to travel from Rugby to London as from Northampton to London?  Is it because most journeys from Northampton have to be with London Midland, and Virgin, whilst being much faster, is also much more expensive?  (The direct train to Long Buckby with London Midland also stops in Rugby.)

Why is there not a better transport policy in Daventry to take people to and from Long Buckby station so I wouldn’t have to take the car at all?

Nature in the rain.

Daventry Country Park Looking Towards Borough Hill
Daventry Country Park Looking Towards Borough Hill

It is meant to be high Summer, but it feels more like autumn; the light is not exactly brilliant (not sure a pun was intended), the monotonous call of the chiffchaff has been replaced by the tic of the robin, the rose hips and hawthorn berries are starting to turn red and, there is a lot of rain about.  Still, this is no reason to stay indoors when all seems dull outside.

I took my new, lightweight pair of binoculars for a test drive at the Country Park today.  I bought them a few weeks ago, but had so far not had any reason to use them.  As expected the Country Park was wonderfully quiet on the visitor front, but still with plenty to catch one’s attention.  The water was alive with gulls and geese, with a huge group of swans at the far end.  Darting over the water wheeling and turning, almost touching the water and pulling away at what seemed to be after the last moment were the swallows and house martins reminding me that it was still Summer.  The terns were also very much in evidence, gliding on the wind that is a permanent feature of Daventry or sitting on the purpose built raft.

Yellow Flowers Amongst the Rocks

In places there were splashes of colour, such as these yellow flowers, glowing, despite the rain, looking brighter when viewed against the dark rocks and the black-looking water.  I hadn’t noticed these the first time I walked past them, I was too intent looking at the swooping swallows and house martins.  I often find that reversing the direction in which I am walking gives a completely different view and outlook, leading to a whole different visual experience.

The highlight of my walk was a treecreeper that was most obliging, twining its way around the lowest branch of a large oak tree, just by the main path.  These are exquisite birds, if you are lucky enough to get a good view, preferably through a good pair of binoculars, you will be startled by the delicate colouring, the many shades of brown that add up to make a beautiful little brown and white bird.  Listen for the quiet squeaking and look at the trunk and branches to see a little bird spiralling around probing the cracks and fissures in the bark with its curved beak, looking for insects.

So, in conclusion, my new pair of binoculars are excellent, the weather may be dull and damp, but the wildlife is still out there, waiting to be seen.  After all, if the birds stayed at home every time it rained they would soon starve to death, and the trees and flowers can’t up sticks (another unintended pun – sorry!) and look for shelter.

Reasons to take a walk.

OK, so we all know that walking to and from work is good for the environment and makes us healthier (unless we get run over by a lorry). I also maintain that not only does it reduce stress, but makes our lives more interesting, allowing us to notice the nature all around us that we usually don’t even see.

For example, the other Friday I had a bit of a stressy day at work, but, fortunately I get to walk home afterwards. After walking through the gate, the first thing I am hit by is the perfume of the rosa rugosa that is planted as one passes between industrial estates. If you don’t know what this smells like, then I can only describe it as the scent you expect from a rose (but which you rarely get these days) but more so, it hits you before you see the rose itself, which, lets face it, is a bit of a messy looking thing. This is probably my favourite scent (although honeysuckle can give it a run for its money). Straight away, mood lifted.

Dog RosesA cluster of Elderflowers

Then, as I walk along, listening to the song thrush, I find the dog roses in amongst the hedges (little scent, but look pretty), and the flag iris by the lake. As I get to the old railway track I can hear the chiffchaff calling, the trees rustling in the wind and, strangely enough, a red legged partridge sat on top of someone’s roof shouting away, no wonder they get shot, that would have to be one of the most annoying sounds.

So, with a smile on my face from encountering such an unlikely bird sat on a roof top, I wander past more dog roses, hear families of long tailed tits chirring in the trees, and, wander past the fluffy clouds of elder flowers. Not a bad way to end the week.

Natural Highlights to the Working Day

I have been particularly busy at work this week due to customer demands and staff absences. This has been made worse by the warm air and the blue sky taunting me from outside.

However, when taking a breather and having a look out across the car park and the small amount of green edging the site I spotted a couple of invaders – red-legged partridges. Now I realise that these are pretty common, but it was the pleasure that seeing them somewhere unexpected that made them special. They were running at some speed across the car park – spooked by the incoming lorries, at one point passing about 10 feet in front of my window. Added to that was the joy that pointing these out to someone else brought (especially as he thinks that I make the birds up).

Whilst I was trying to see where they had gone to I had the unexpected bonus of seeing my first Brimstone butterflies of the year dancing in the air near a pair of carrion crows picking up nesting materials.

Highlights like this almost make it worthwhile going to work.

When food shopping becomes a hobby.

I am lucky enough to live in a town that has a Waitrose in which I can do my weekly grocery shopping. I know that most people think that you need to have unlimited funds in order to shop there, but we have found that we actually spend less there than in other supermarkets. Although some products are more expensive, it is so much more pleasant to shop there that I am willing to pay more.

My other half and I have increasingly found ourselves looking at the origin of the food that we buy and tryto select produce from the UK, or at worst, from parts of Europe (I think the food miles from the north of France are probably less than those for produce from the north of Scotland). There are obvious exceptions to this – for example I don’t know of anyone supplying UK grown bananas, but we always buy Fair Trade bananas from the Windward Islands.

There are people who think we are mad, but as I see it, not only does the food taste better when it is fresher, hasn’t been refrigerated or stored in a preservative gas, it is good for the environment and supports the British agricultural industry (or what is left of it). Why buy Mange Tout imported all the way from Africa when you can buy Pak Choi from England? Importing food may seem a cheaper alternative, but the jobs that are lost as more and more farms become uneconomical result in a bigger burden on the tax payer, not to mention the environmental consequences of numerous farms being sold for housing.

The plus side of this approach is that food shopping and subsequent cooking has become more of a hobby. Buying seasonal, British produce has resulted in the discovery of crops we had never tried before: – Jerusalem Artichokes (not sure about these), Cavolo Nero (delicious in pasta and high in iron), red cabbage and purple sprouting broccoli (we bought this today and haven’t tried it yet). In addition to this there is the fun of trying out different recipes with the seasonal ingredients.

I will be trying to go one better this summer and grow some of my own produce and will hopefully have more luck than last year which resulted in lots of courgettes (although I have since found some recipes to use these) and green tomato chutney (which I believe is better than most as there seemed to be a lot of blight about last year).

So, next time you are in the supermarket and pick up those South American berries, South African pears or African beans, think of the environment and the farmers and try something different and British instead.

First Frosts

frosty leaves

On my way to work this morning (and for the past week) everything has looked so beautiful, the sun is just coming up, all the plants are coated in frost and the air is so still that even the industrial units look stunning bathed in an orange glow and reflected in the lake.

Autumn and Winter have combined into a colourful, but subdued tapestry.

So, by walking to work, not only do I get some exercise, I get to look at what nature is exhibiting and, as an extra Brucie Bonus I arrive at work toasty warm. If I get bit chilly by lunchtime – time for another walk.

I work in an office surrounded by people that constantly complain that it is cold. Now that the weather has been a little frosty in the morning (or bitterly cold as my colleagues choose to describe it) the air conditioning has been turned up to heat the office to 26oC and, if I didn’t turn it off each evening it would be left on continuously.

If only my colleagues could be persuaded to leave their car behind and walk the 20- 30 minutes to work then we would cut costs, reduce the carbon footprint and I wouldn’t have to listen to them constantly complaining about the cold!

Carroty Contentment

I have been in the same job for seven years now and to be perfectly honest do not enjoy the majority of it. It is not that I couldn’t enjoy the job that I do, it is just that I seem to spend most of my time frustratingly fixing the same avoidable problems. This week I had one of those weeks that has actually persuaded me that it may be time to finally move on and I have applied for a job that will involve at least a 40 minute commute, going against all of my principles and for what? It is not as if (should there be any such thing) that when I am at the Pearly Gates I will be marked by the job that I have done, the size of my bank balance and the perceived success that I have achieved in the world of work (although who would judge that and against what criteria I am not sure).

So, after a pants week at work I was hoping to be able to fill my precious weekend with fulfilling useful accomplishments. Inspired by the tulips on Gardener’s World on Friday night, my beloved and I decided that we would go to the garden centre to check out the spring bulbs. We were completely thwarted, we tried two garden centres only to be confronted by a mass of Christmas tat where the bulbs used to live (don’t get me started on the subject of Christmas – I could rant for days). On Saturday night we settled down to watch a film that a work colleague lent me – 300. This was the worst film I have seen since Charlie’s Angels, I feel I was robbed of two hours of my life! The weekend was not going to plan.

You may be wondering where all this is going and what it has to do with Carrots. Well, today I had planned to visit one of the two tetrads that I have volunteered to survey for the BTO Bird Atlas. I got the Ordnance Survey map out, we planned the route to take in all the habitats that we could in the two hours, and then the sky darkened and the wind picked up. If I went out today I am guessing that I wouldn’t see many birds as they would all be sat in the trees laughing at me getting soaked. So that left all of the jobs that I had been putting off; washing the ash off the car that all those fireworks kindly scattered (it was time for its annual wash anyway), do some more tidying in the garden, move what remains of the gooseberry once the sawfly had devastated it, that kind of thing. Whilst I was out there I decided it was time to empty the tub in which I had been attempting to grow carrots.

I had had a torrid time with the carrots (and everything else that wasn’t a courgette). I planted them with Welsh Onions in order to prevent an attack of the evil carrot fly that I had read about, I had carefully watered the seeds, covered them with a sheet of plastic to keep the pests out, watched as the little ferny seedlings had appeared and slowly got bigger, looked in disbelief as they vanished overnight (I know not where), not once but twice. I finally threw all caution to the wind and chucked some seed in the same compost in late Summer which seemed to grow. I had assumed that lack of thinning and late harvesting would lead to small and weedy carrots.

Home Grown CarrotsHowever, I was pleasantly surprised with my four bits of produce (they are not anaemic, they were meant to be different shades) and I found a strange kind of contentment that despite the poor weather and the disruption that has come from spending the last two years re-modelling the garden I still managed to grow something. I have come to the end of the weekend with a level of contentment that I have sadly never had from work, and the motivation to try again next year.